The World Health Organization on Tuesday called on China to improve its air quality and urged residents of Beijing to stay indoors as the capital city suffered a sixth day of hazardous-level air pollution.
Bernhard Schwartländer, the organization’s China chief, said he is concerned about the smog that has smothered Beijing in recent days. The WHO has been in contact with national authorities to discuss the problem and steps toward a solving it.
“There is no easy solution,” Dr. Schwartländer said, adding that solving the problem requires managing industry and the economy.
As of Tuesday night, levels of tiny, hazardous particulate matter known as PM2.5 averaged 452 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24-hour period, according to readings from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. That was more than 18 times the WHO’s recommended level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter.
Heavily pollution has plagued much of northern and central China since Thursday. Since the weekend, governments in the northeastern city of Tianjin and northern Hebei province have taken steps that include reducing the number of cars on the road and suspending some production in industries such as steel.
China’s National Meteorological Center said Tuesday it reaffirmed the region’s orange alert, its second-most-severe air-pollution warning after red under a system enacted in October amid rising public pressure on authorities to act on pollution. That alert level requires a halt to construction work and orders factories to temporarily reduce emissions by 30%. Fireworks and outdoor barbecuing are also banned. Children and the elderly are advised to stay indoors, and residents are encouraged to use public transportation instead of cars.
In Beijing, where a light gray mist shrouded buildings and landmarks, WHO officials said the pollution levels pose a threat to human health, though they cautioned that they couldn’t link recent pollution levels with local media reports of specific cases of lung cancer and other ailments.
Beijing’s air pollution index has been over 300 for the past five days and its air quality continues to deteriorate. The WSJ’s Deborah Kan speaks with WSJ Reporter Wayne Ma about why Beijing is seeing longer-lasting hazardous air.
“We’re cautious of whether the illness is related to air pollution,” said Shin Young-Soo, the WHO’s Western Pacific regional director, adding, “We know it has an impact on health, but we don’t know how much.”
In a sign that China’s top leadership acknowledges the problem poses a credibility issue for them, official Chinese media covered the pollution problem extensively. The official Xinhua News Agency quoted a local environmental official in Hebei province as acknowledging that a lawsuit filed by a citizen against the local government reflected increasing environmental awareness. Xinhua said the citizen, Li Guixin, filed the suit in a local court in the district of Yuhua on Feb. 20.
Meanwhile, China’s online community remarked on the appearance of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, on a trendy street in Beijing Tuesday. Chinese social media showed Mr. Xi —China’s president and the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party—strolling down an alleyway called Nanluoguxiang, an area popular with tourists and filled with street-food vendors and other businesses. Such public appearances by senior Chinese leaders are rare.
Many noted that he walked outside on such a heavily polluted day without an air mask. “Breathing together, sharing the same fate,” read a widely repeated response on Sina Corp.’s SINA -9.33% Weibo microblogging platform.